Book Review:I came a stranger: The Story of a Hull – House Girl: By Hilda Satt Polachek
“I came a stranger: the story of a hull –house girl” is a recount of Hilda Polacheki as an emigrant to American life and the community of the Hull-House. A part from the introduction to American life and the Hull- House community, she also explains how she became friends with one Jane Adams, one of the influential teacher and proprietor at Hull House. She also reveals how she was betrothed and eventually married, her support for the Women’s International league for Freedom and Peace, women suffrage, civil rights and how she gained her writing experience in her new land.
The story is essentially her reflection on the dramatic change which she experienced upon her emigration to America both within her family life as well as herself. Although she had earlier anticipated the emigration experience to be rosy, it turned out not to be so. This was because in reality , there was no basic discipline in the country and it was depicted by a constant state of chaos. She also recounts on how she became mixed up with the habits and customs of America and how she was almost fed up had it not been the intervention of the Hull House community and her friend, Jane Addams. It was the Hull House and Jane Addams that changed her perspective concerning the American lifestyle as well as helping them adapt to that lifestyle.
Hilda Satt Polachek was a young Jewish lady who migrated together with her family to America from Poland. While in America, she is helped to adapt to American life, customs and habits by her newly met friend, Jane Addams at the Hull House Community. The reason for this emigration from Poland was to flee the dreadful pogroms in Poland that made her and her family to abandon their well-healed lifestyle and become Jewish immigrants in America. In Poland, they were referred as Pogroms, to mean people who killed Christ. At Poland, There was a kind of intolerance that could be described in twofold: First, they were required to subject themselves to Russian prejudice and owing to their Jewish faith, they had encountered a severe religious intolerance in the country (ch 1, 8). This is drawn from her reflection
“As long as I can remember, the Poles were not in good terms with the Germans and Russians. The Germans also disregarded the Russians and the Poles. There existed a profound hatred among the people of three nations. This hatred was much higher among the people of the Jewish origin” (ch1, 24).
The emigration of Satt’s family to United States was therefore, an attempt in finding an end to the continuous discrimination and intolerance of their faith in Poland. Her family had thought that things in America could be different for them. In this migration to America, Hilda and her family also brings with it their Jewish traditions, customs and behavior in this industrial age. They had hoped that unlike in Poland, their culture could be tolerated in this new land.
Polachek’s early impressions regarding America was that it was a land of cultural diversity, economic opportunities as well as religious freedom. For her and her family, they had placed their hope in America as a nation that could not interfere with their religious beliefs. It was however, ironical that prejudice and discrimination was some of the challenges, which they also faced in this country (chapter 2, p10). Again, in America, Polachek and her family were subjected to religious intolerance because of their Jewish faith. At the Hull-house community, this family was required to adapt to American’s lifestyle, culture and customs at the expense of abandoning their own culture. They were also required to understand the English language, which was a common means of communication in America (chapter 5, p2)
New arrivals especially those from the Jewish origin were subjected to assimilation programs to introduce them to American culture. This became a source of conflict between their culture and what they considered as an “alien culture”. In essence, Hilda and her family found themselves at a crossroad between their Jewish customs and tradition with the modern American lifestyle (124).
As pointed out in this autobiography, Hull House was one of the popular settlements in the Progressive America. This Hull House played a very significant role with regard to assimilating the immigrants. Hull House was more notable for its role in assimilating the Jewish immigrants to adapt to the new life. Some of the activities in this Hull house included political lectures, Americanization, plays and concerts , English classes, and reading resources.
Hilda discovered Hull House after her friend took her on some Christmas party (Ch 6, p1). At this place, they were introduced to crucial cultural and social issues. According to Hilda, Hull House changed her identity in many perspectives. For instance, it enabled her to proceed with her education, assist other immigrants in going through Hull House and its activities, and also in addressing social issues and concerns. In fact, she refers this place in her autobiography as an “oasis in the desert”. This is because it greatly helped her and her family to not only adjust but also help others adapt to American life. The Hull House helped Hilda master the English language as well as be exposed to American life (chapter 12, 2).
Hilda Satt Polachek, “I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl”
ISBN-10: 0252062183, University of Illinois Press, 1991.